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Dan Moreland


[PCT on the Road] Cook’s Open House Showcases State-of-the-Art Training Facilities

PCT News

Residential and commercial training centers provide hands-on educational experiences in a “real-world” setting for technicians and sales personnel.

December 30, 2014

Cook’s Pest Control, Decatur, Ala., has long been admired for its commitment to employee training and continuing education, a fitting tribute to its legendary owner, John Cook Sr., who passed away in 2009 following a distinguished 59-year career in the pest management industry.

The former NPMA president, whose deep religious faith was at the center of his life, no doubt was smiling down on his family and friends when Cook’s Pest Control held an “Open House” this past summer to showcase the company’s residential and commercial training facilities.

Among the 150 invited guests to the day-long event were regulatory personnel from Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, along with trade association officials, key customers, industry business partners and the media.

In addition to a hearty lunch from world-famous Big Bob Gibson BBQ — the 2014 World Barbeque Champions — guests were treated to a four-part tour featuring the company’s Residential Training Center, opened in 2012; Commercial Training Center, opened in January 2014; the Cook’s Academy of Customer Service; and the Cook’s Natural Science Museum.

Due to a scheduling conflict, PCT magazine was unable to attend the open house but received a private tour of the company’s residential and commercial training facilities with Chief Operating Officer Joey Harris; Vice President of Technical Services Stephen Gates; and Director of Training Robert Humphreys.


An Investment in the Future

Several years ago, when executives at Cook’s Pest Control decided to build both a residential and commercial training facility on its corporate campus in Decatur, Ala., no expense was spared.

“As we planned the facilities, Mr. Aycock (the company’s CEO) said, ‘I don’t want you to ever say, I wish I had done this or I wish I had done that.’ Whatever needed to be done to create a state-of-the-art educational experience, they wanted us to do it,” observes Robert Humphreys, director of training. “No expense was spared.”

Throughout the multi-year process of constructing the two training facilities, upper management met with the architectural firm, builder and Training Department executives on a regular basis to monitor progress and make appropriate adjustments. “I’m not a big project by committee person,” says COO Joey Harris, a 30-year veteran of the industry, “but in this case it worked.”

Despite the high cost of the respective training centers, both Stephen Gates, vice president of technical services, and Harris said it was money well spent. “The more you put into training, the longer you’re going to retain your employees, and there is no better investment than that,” Harris observes. “More training equals less turnover and that means a healthier long-term business.”


Multi-faceted Training.

As mentioned previously, Cook’s Pest Control boasts one of the most comprehensive training programs in the pest management industry. Each new service technician and sales professional undergoes extensive, on-site training that includes web-based, classroom and on-the-job educational experiences.

Here’s how the program is structured. Each sales and service professional completes an in-house, interactive training program from their local office that includes 20 to 30 hours of training on topics such as general entomology, customer service and safety. Every manager, supervisor, technician and salesperson is required to successfully complete these online courses — powered through a web-based training platform called Brainshark — on a monthly basis. The training program is verifiable and managed through Cook’s corporate office.


Initial computer training is also combined with on-the-job training as sales and service trainees accompany managers, supervisors and leading sales and service professionals in the field. When the computer coursework is completed, trainees then attend general and specialty classes conducted at the Cook’s Academy of Customer Service training facility on the corporate campus in Decatur, Ala. Depending on job classification, this training may take up to two and a half weeks to complete.

It is during this phase that Cook’s employees are introduced to the company’s unique corporate culture. The company’s main classroom features a “heritage wall” that highlights the history of Cook’s Pest Control, as well as features quotes from John Cook Sr., the company’s second-generation owner who built the firm into one of the largest family-owned pest control businesses in the country.

“The heritage wall allows our employees to learn about where we came from as a company, which is important,” says COO Joey Harris. “We’re very intentional about setting our expectations of employees from day one. Respect, integrity, professionalism and dedication are timeless qualities that were embodied by Mr. Cook, and we want those qualities to endure in each of our employees.”

The facility also features photos of the company’s “President’s Club,” top-performing employees from both a sales and service perspective who have distinguished themselves in the past year. “They are featured prominently in our training area because we want our new employees to know that this is what you can achieve at Cook’s Pest Control,” Harris observes.

Each President’s Club member receives a ring, valued at up to $3,000, for their contributions to the company, along with participation in a recognition ceremony held in conjunction with an annual cruise. “Our employees are very proud of those rings, and for good reason,” Harris says. “They’ve earned it by providing the best possible service to their customers.”

While the cost of the ring is significant, its real value resides in what it represents, Harris says. “It embodies the success they’ve achieved on their job. They can show it to their children and their relatives and be proud of what they’ve accomplished.” Approximately 15 percent of employees qualify for the President’s Club every year.

In addition, the company posts pictures and brief bios of members of its “Employee Hall of Fame” at the Cook’s Academy of Customer Service, reinforcing its employee-centric approach to business.


Nothing Replaces Hands-On Training

The success of Cook’s comprehensive training program is based, in large part, on the hands-on training each technician and sales professional receives in “real-world” situations.

For instance, in a house that was built as part of Cook’s Residential Training Center a “baiting wall” has been constructed in which up to 10 technicians can learn how to properly apply bait (see photo above, on the right).

“The 30- to 40-minute training exercise allows them to actually apply bait (without the active ingredient) to various sites they would typically find around a home,” says Robert Humphreys, director of training. These include electrical boxes, wall moulding, door handles, etc.

In the kitchen area of the training facility, technicians are given four minutes to find as many “roach hot spots” as they can identify while conducting an inspection. “Fifty dots have been placed throughout the kitchen in common harborage sites,” Humphreys says, creating a friendly competition among members of the individual training classes. “The technician who finds the most hot spots is recognized for his superior inspection skills during the class.”

Such real-world experiences and hands-on training “changes the recruits’ perception of the industry,” says COO Joey Harris. “They realize pest control is a profession, a profession dedicated to protecting the health and property of our customers. It’s a big deal!”


On-site Facilities.

The latest additions to the company’s training program are a relatively new Residential Training Center, completed in 2012, and a Commercial Training Center, which opened last January. “Sitting in a classroom and learning about various pests is one thing,” observes Gates, “but actually doing it is how people learn best. We find hands-on education is the most effective form of training.”

Both technicians and sales personnel are given the opportunity to inspect, graph and treat a house, under the supervision of a Cook’s training instructor, at the company’s Residential Training Center. Students experience as many different treatment scenarios as possible during this phase of their training — slab, basement and crawlspace construction; a variety of exterior siding options; a variety of ornamental plants around the perimeter of the home; and an assortment of crawlspace doors, foundation supports (piers) and window types.

To make the training as authentic as possible, the backyard includes a deck, patio, lawn furniture, swing set, sand box, storage building, dog house, small pond, and various ornamental plants, flowers and trees. “Virtually anything a technician is likely to encounter in or around a home has been recreated on the grounds of the Residential Training Center,” according to Humphreys.

“Pest control is like putting a puzzle together,” Gates adds. “By recreating a typical residential home — complete with different construction types and building materials — we’re helping our technicians better understand that puzzle.”

Earlier this year, Cook’s opened a Commercial Training Facility to complement its Residential Training Center, where various types of commercial accounts have been recreated including a hotel room, commercial kitchen, convenience store, supermarket, dorm room, daycare center, office cubicle, hospital room, industrial warehouse and fast-food restaurant, complete with drive-thru window.

“It took us some time to acquire all of the materials to outfit the rooms, but it was a blast,” Gates says. “We bought the checkout counter at an online auction from a supermarket that went out of business and the fast-food restaurant furniture and equipment from a Chick-fil-A, which didn’t need them anymore when they updated one of their locations.”

The company also built flexibility into the room designs, allowing each to be altered/updated as necessary. “The rooms aren’t set in stone,” Gates says. “Our biggest fear was to build something that we couldn’t change later.”

Gates says successful commercial pest management is “more about inspections than treatment” so it’s important to create “real-world” scenarios designed to mirror their technicians’ experiences in the field.

“A technician wears many hats and treats many types of accounts,” he says. “We want them to be prepared for anything and our Commercial Training Center, in addition to other key elements of our training program, help us do that.”


The author is publisher of PCT magazine. Email him at